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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Hurricane Coverage; Galveston and Beaumont Texas Prepare for Hurricane Rita

Aired September 23, 2005 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Lou, thanks very much. Good evening, everyone. We are live in Beaumont, Texas, a town that has battened down the hatches and is preparing for Hurricane Rita in a few hours, ready to come onshore. This is special edition of 360 live from Beaumont it is 4:00 p.m. on the West Coast, 7:00 p.m. in the east and 6:00 p.m. right here in Beaumont, 360 starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Countdown. Hours before landfall, the Gulf Coast, the entire nation braces for Rita, a dangerous Category 3 hurricane. Tonight, the eye roars toward sudden impact.

Gushing in, another massive levee break in New Orleans and officials wait moment by moment in fear that others will give way. Holding their breath, what if another deluge pours back into the city?

A nighttime evacuation turns into a deadly nightmare. Passengers fleeing the storm killed in a fiery bus accident while millions try to get out of harm's way. But with the roads clogged and planes grounded, can they beat the clock?

And instead of running for cover, they dig in and vow to stay and meet Rita head on. After Katrina, why they still think they can ride out the storm. This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360: HURRICANE RITA.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And welcome back, we are live in Beaumont and as you can see, the conditions here are deteriorating rapidly. We're on a river here. They're already starting to see some white caps. There's a port up there. The ships are in dry dock or have been pushed up against the land and over to my left, also, you can see there are an awful lot of tug boats and fishing boats, which have all been brought in together. This town is a town which they believe they are ready for this storm. The majority of people here, the vast majority, the mayor says maybe 95 percent of the people here have already left. We're going have a lot from Beaumont and this entire region tonight on 360.

First, let's look at the storm from above. It is from above that you really get a sense of the power and the size of this storm, still 140 miles out from Beaumont, Texas. But it is heading here. Beaumont is a city of 110, 115,000 people. Most of them have evacuated.

The winds picking up. Let's look what is happening now that the moment. Hurricane Rita is a Category 3 storm. Still a Category 3 storm, winds about 125-mile-per-hour. There could be a storm surge of 20 feet in areas. They're watching that very closely because there are a lot of low lying areas in this part of Texas.

Also at this hour, an investigation looking into what happened aboard a bus, 24 evacuees, elderly people from a nursing home, died when their bus exploded on the highway as they were trying to get to Dallas, Texas, from Houston, where they had been evacuated. It is believed the fire started in the brakes but may have been accelerated and made worse by oxygen tanks onboard that bus.

And finally, we take you to New Orleans, another levee has failed. Over topped is what the Army Corps of Engineers says. This water flooding back into the ninth ward. The ninth ward which was flooded before in which so many of the people have died are still being found.

Let's, right now, let's check into the progress on this storm. Exactly where it is. Because here on the ground, we know this thing is coming but it is hard to get a sense of where it is. Chad Myers, CNN severe weather expert standing by at the weather center in Atlanta.

Chad, where is it?

CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It is picking up speed. It is not that far from you. Literally, I think, probably the northern most landfall, the eye wall, will be eight hours from now. Not waiting until day break, but certainly earlier than that. If you are keeping track at home 28.5 and 92.9, that's 100 miles southeast of the Sabine Pass. And that Sabine Pass is right there. Right there along the border between Texas and Louisiana.

Couple of maps I want to take you to now. A couple of them, one about storm surge. Storm surge has really shifted to east now a little bit. Galveston, you may get five feet. You get over to Port Arthur, somewhere between 10 and even 14 feet. Port Arthur all the way over to Lake Charles, this is a swampy low area of Louisiana. That water may rush all the way to I-10.

Further to the east, the storm surge goes down a little bit, two to four. But notice in New Orleans, four to eight inches of rain and why is that? It's because of the way the wind has been blowing all day long. Here is the center of the storm spinning around here. Well, you know what? The winds have been blowing off shore in Galveston. Not onshore. Not blowing onshore, actually blowing water off for today. But there is the eye wall, there's the land. At 12-miles-per- hour, that calculates out at eight hours and three minutes.

Something else to worry about in Louisiana, tornadoes. There have been dozens of tornado warning here. Every storm that comes onshore is spinning, could be water spouts with this. But the problem is the wind direction. It's been coming through Bay Saint Louis right into Lake Bourne and piling into Lake Pontchartrain. Also coming through Lake Bourne and right on up into the Industrial Canal, talked about seven foot higher water in the Industrial Canal. That was part of the problem that was part of the reason why one of those levees broke. They didn't expect that type of overtopping.

And then back out here, I'll take you become to Galveston, back to Port Arthur, and get rid of this number here and some of the wind speeds, here, are still only in the 40, 50-mile-per-hour range, but look, Port Arthur off shore, glowing water away. Galveston, off shore. That's why the storm surge will be here as the eye makes landfall. Just to the east or right around Port Arthur, Beaumont.

I tell you what, Anderson, you are going to have one long night here. And I'm going to watch it with you.

COOPER: All right, we'll be together with you, Chad. Thank you very much. We're going to check in with you a little bit later.

I just want to show you the Neches River, here in Beaumont this will be a mark of the progress of the storm for us throughout the next several hours. If you can take a look at it, I don't know if you can pan over there, David, already getting white caps as it is coming ashore. We are anticipating this some flooding here, especially if there's any kind of storm surge. We anticipate the, you know, the water definitely will be up here and we are prepared to move back. But we're going to be checking on that. I'm showing it to you just as one small symbol where this storm is going.

Earlier today the governor of Texas spoke, warning people to get out on the roads. Of course at this point, if you haven't started out on the roads there is no point in leaving now. You need to just get to safety where you are in your home or in your community. Here's what the governor had to say and here's what the day looked like.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: I want to say that the effort to evacuate people in the path of the storm continues on.

COOPER (voice-over): Governor Rick Perry earlier today, still urging Texas residents in the path of Hurricane Rita to get out of the way. Texans took him at his word. Hundreds of thousands jammed the roadways, searching for safety from the storm, now a Category 3 set to hit their state head on. On the highways, however, many found massive traffic jams and a lot of frustration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were following instructions and I think everybody was trying to do what they were told to do. Everybody was trying to respond and it's just -- it's been a disaster.

COOPER: It was truly a disaster on the I-45 near Dallas. A bus carrying elderly evacuees away interest a Houston nursing home, caught fire. Twenty-four died when the heat of the fire caused their oxygen canisters to explode. Twenty-four lives lost trying to find refuge from the oncoming storm.

MAYOR LAURA MILLER, DALLAS, Texas: It's obviously a horrific event. The whole city is very upset about this. And we've handled two waves of evacuees now, we've never had anything this horrible happen. So, it's really a tragedy.

COOPER: The horror of the bus explosion added to the woes of weary travelers, some sitting in traffic for more than 12 hours. Others sat stranded by the side of the road when their tanks ran dry. And there was nowhere to go to fill them up. Some local officials were feeling the heat.

HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF: A lot of the service stations were closed or out of gas, so we're kind of making this up as we go. We've never had an evacuation this large. I don't think anyone in the country has. So I think based upon that, we're doing a very good job.

COOPER: The National Guard sent two trucks filled with fuel out on the roads to help stranded drivers, but they were slow in coming and carried limited amounts of gas. Those trying to make their escape by air face crowds and chaos. Long lines stretched through airports in the hurricane zone, desperate passengers trying to fly out before the last planes left the ground this afternoon.

And FEMA, roundly criticized for its response to Katrina, says it is ready for Rita with helicopters, aircraft, food, water and rescue teams already on the ground.

R. DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR: I want to tell the people of Texas and of Louisiana that the federal government is here and that we'll stay here until we're finished with these storms. We're not going leave and we're not going anywhere.

COOPER: But president Bush says he's going somewhere other than Texas. He canceled plans to visit parts of the state threatened by the storm. Instead he'll ride it out at North Com headquarters in Colorado, making sure, he says, the government gets it right this time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our job is to assist -- prepare for and assist the state and local people to save lives and to help these people get back on their feet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We are, as I said in Beaumont, Texas, about 20 miles southeast of us is Port Arthur. That, right now, is where the eye of the storm is projected to come. And there is a lot of concern because Port Arthur shares a lot in common with New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Fear tonight, Port Arthur, Texas may bear the brunt of Rita's storm surge. The reason that has officials so concerned is because, like New Orleans, it lies between a lake and a river. Katrina gave us all a valuable lesson in Gulf Coast geography.

New Orleans sits in a bowl between the Mississippi river and Lake Pontchartrain, Surrounded by a 350 mile system of levees. We saw what happened when the levees failed. The city filled look a bathtub. And because it is below sea level, the water didn't drain off and had to be pumped out.

Port Arthur, Texas, home, not only to the late Janice Joplin and football coach Jimmy Johnson, but a high concentration of oil refineries, lies on a coastal plane bordered by Sabine Lake and the Neches River. The gulf intercostal water way runs past the city. Like New Orleans it's guarded by levees, but can only withstand a 14 foot storm surge. Even a Cat 3 storm can provide 10 to 15 foot storm surge. The feared result here, massive flooding.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Gary Tuchman has been in Port Arthur all day.

Is that town ready?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That town is ready because no one's left in that town. But the police and the fire officials told everybody who lived there, the 57,000 people, that you have to go, because we believe, under these circumstances this town will be under 20 feet of water. So I have never seen an evacuation like I've seen there. Nobody was there when we were there. Even the local police and fire officials have left town, nowhere near it anymore.

COOPER: So, there's not even police there really.

WHITFIELD: All right, we've lost our signals there with Anderson Cooper as well as Gary Tuchman, there, out of Beaumont. We'll try to return to that as soon as we can. Meantime, CNN's Rick Sanchez is out chasing the storm, he's been traveling I-10 from Beaumont to Lake Charles. He joins us now -- Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, this is the lake that a lot of people are extremely concerned about. We've been traveling in Hurricane One which gives us an opportunity, as a matter of fact, show them if you would, Rick, if it doesn't affect the camera too much, we're using the truck, essentially, to try and get from place to place so that we can be mobile and take you to different locations as this storm changes and as we get information about what areas are being affected by the storm.

Here, off of Lake Charles, the city is called Lake Charles and this is Lake Charles, here. You can see some of the Harrah's Casinos' boats that they have in the background. These are the boats that, by law, have to be in the water. The problem is, as we found out along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well, oftentimes if the surge comes up, it actually will go up and take the boats out of the water and move some of them, as we learned in Mississippi, as far as a mile inland. That's one of the concerns here.

Now, if you do the math and start to figure what the storm surge is going to be here, they're saying it could go possibly as high as 13 feet. Well, just from the lake itself, we count the steps, one, two, three, four, five, six -- we're only six feet and you can see that this is one where the buildings are, over there behind me, behind the photographer, is where the homes are. We've had a history of here, every single person, to a man I talked to and to a woman, when we come into town, who said our biggest concern is the surge, our biggest concern is the flooding. We got a history of flooding in this town and we'd like to see if we could somehow not get by -- or get by, I should say, without having it happen this time. So that's the situation here.

We're going to be following (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Lake Charles. Because we're on this side of the storm, they expecting to get a surge and they're also expecting as many as 20 inches of rain in the next couple of days. Let's go back to Anderson or Erica. I'm not sure.

COOPER: Rick, thanks very much. I'll take it from here in Beaumont, Texas. We're talking about Port Arthur before we got blown off the air. What are they expecting there?

SANCHEZ: What they're very concerned about at Port Arthur is the highest elevation is five feet above sea level. Some of it is below sea level. There's a lake next to the city, it's called the Sabine Lake, two miles from the Gulf of Mexico and they're afraid all of the water is going to come from there, over a 14 foot seawall, which is too low and that's what they think will flood the city. But, it is so empty in that city, you literally see tumbleweeds going down the main street -- literally, Texas tumbleweeds.

COOPER: All right, Gary thanks. We'll check in with you a little bit later on.

Ahead tonight on 360 live from Beaumont and this entire region, we're going to take you to New Orleans, show you what has happened to the levees, more flooding there. Why did they fail this time? We'll talk to someone from the Army Corps of Engineers.

We're also going to take a look -- we're going to show you what exactly 125-mile-an-hour winds looks like. Our correspondent, Brian Todd, takes you inside a wind tunnel and you'll see the effects yourself. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: The Neches River here in Beaumont already getting kicked up by the wind a fair amount. We are live, as I said, in Beaumont, Texas. I want to talk about what happened in New Orleans earlier today. A levee in the ninth ward was breeched. The water flooding in. The ninth ward, of course, had already pumped out, but it had seen bad flooding. The Army Corps of Engineers said that they weren't really surprised that that particular levee was overtopped, but they thought it would happen after Rita, not necessarily before Rita even arrived.

CNN's Adaora Udoji was there.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite Rita's menacing arrival, FEMA officials here in New Orleans still began the day with a cautious confidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Shouldn't have too much flooding. So, it should be OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As long as it stays on its course.

UDOJI: But the fact is, this is probably the last place anyone would call the Big Easy anymore. Because only hours later, water once again burst over and through the battered Industrial Canal levee, just north of downtown New Orleans.

STEVE BROWN, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: What we didn't expect was the water levels to rise this quickly.

UDOJI: How quickly? An overwhelming flood, at one point, up to 10 inches of water a minute. The Army Corps of Engineers says it was a storm surge of over seven feet.

This is the same levee that breeched after Hurricane Katrina stuck three weeks ago when water poured in and devastated the ninth ward, but this time the waters inundating abandoned homes. Neighborhoods that had been flooded out and then painstakingly pumped dry are once again transformed into a watery ghost town.

(on camera): We're north of downtown at a railroad crossing and the flood waters are moving in so quickly that minutes ago there was none near this cap and soon it'll be floating.

(voice-over): As wicked winds pick up and rain keeps coming, there is little the engineers can do but watch the levees so they know where to go after the storm passes.

BRIG. GEN. BRUCE BERWICK, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: We did everything possible that we could, but the storm is a very active enemy. And it -- we'll have to just keep working.

UDOJI: To everyone here, an enemy that seems to be just coming and coming.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

UDOJI: And the winds are picking up here, Anderson. In the last few moments, we've really watched the wind drive a bridge between the railroad tracks, over here, that are flooded to the street, over here. But there is some good news. The Army Corps of Engineers, there's some relief for them which is two major levees that were devastated after Hurricane Katrina seemed to be holding and that includes the canal street -- the 17th Street canal levee. That seems to be holding just fine. But they say, of course, they will not be exhaling until the winds are gone and the storm has passed -- Anderson.

COOPER: Adaora, thanks for that.

Let's talk to a gentleman from the Army Corps of Engineers, Colonel Duane Gapinski, who joins us by telephone.

Colonel thanks for being with us. I know it's been a busy day for you. You've been in New Orleans. When do you know that a levee is about to be breeched or overrun?

COL. DUANE GAPINSKI, UNWATERING TASK FORCE: Well actually, today we had instances of overtopping a levee. The water -- the levee actually maintains its integrity but the water flows over the top, so in other words, the -- in this case, the canal level was higher than the height of the levee. And well, you learn it by observation.

COOPER: How concern are you about the other levees and their -- the risk of them getting overtopped or having some sort of structural breech?

GAPINSKI: Not right now. You know, as was just mentioned, you know, in the north and along Lake Pontchartrain, those two canals that had their flood walls breeched, you know, we seal the ends of those with sheet pile and those are intact and, in fact, the water level isn't close to being high enough that we would be seriously worried about it.

COOPER: And how many levees, right now, I mean, are sort of on your list of ones to really watch?

GAPINSKI: Well, we're really concerned out in the east, along Saint. Bernard Parish because that hurricane protection levee was severely degraded, so then now they're planning on their back levee. But, you know, we haven't had any problems yet. And the only water that's going into Saint Bernard Parish is coming through the lower 9th ward and they're pumping it out.

COOPER: Colonel Gapinski, appreciate you joining us tonight.

A lot more to cover here from Beaumont and this entire region. First, let's check in with Erica Hill who has the day's other top headlines -- Erica.

(NEWSBREAK)

COOPER: Erica thanks. Most people here have evacuated. This guy just rode up, Eric Lang.

What are you doing? Why didn't you evacuate?

ERIC LANG, BEAUMONT RESIDENT: We figured our building, built in 1980, was there when the storm in 1900 hit Galveston, so we figured, brick, you know, this thick, it'll be there for a long time.

All right.

LANG: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) than being on the road.

COOPER: But, you're just biking around?

LANG: Yeah, we saw you on the news and decided, I live a block away, I decided to come see.

COOPER: All right. Good lord, go back inside. All right. A lot of people like this guy have decided not to evacuate and are riding out the storm, we'll have more of their stories coming up next. We'll also the latest update on where the Hurricane Rita is now. How far way it is and where is it coming.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Certainly some good advice. The sign says "danger no swimming strong currents" and the currents are getting stronger and stronger by the minute in Beaumont, Texas.

Sean Callebs is over at Galveston, which of course, suffered a huge storm back in 1900. A lot of people there had left. Majority said the mayor, last night, when I talked to here, some 90 percent she believed. But there are some holdouts. Sean Callebs has talked to a couple of them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's called this place home for 60 some years. So where is Helena Avery going to ride out Rita?

HELENA AVERY, GALVESTON RESIDENT: Right here, in this old shack.

CALLEBS: Sipping a cold drink, unconcerned that her home -- its delicate frame will face powerful winds and possible flooding.

CALLEBS (on camera): are you sure you wouldn't consider going to the shelter?

AVERY: I'm sure I wouldn't consider going to a shelter. I got the numbers. I know how to call them.

CALLEBS (voice-over): The city tried to get Helena to safety. The 79-year-old says the police chief came by in an effort get her to move. Unlike New Orleans, Galveston has been aggressive in evacuating the low income, the sick, and the elderly.

Police believe there are very few people still left on the island. We found only two people at the one shelter that is open.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have about 60 cots here. I don't know what to expect because I don't think there's that many people left on the island, myself. I think people made a decision where they're going to be at and they'll hunker down.

CALLEBS: Right across the street from a shelter, Beatrice and Ronnie Haines they will think they'll do better at home.

BEATRICE HAINES, GALVESTON RESIDENT: It's going to be getting a little windy, but the only thing we're worried about is the surge -- the water surge.

CALLEBS: The Haines say Galveston did a great job of preparing all its citizens for the worst. They give the state, however, less than glowing marks. They say the chaos on evacuation routes was the determining factor in staying. They do have water, food, three dogs and a cat.

HAINES: You know, we'll be kind of hurtled in the center of the house, you know, with our pets and all and our supplies that we feel safer here than on the road.

CALLEBS: But that doesn't mean the Haines didn't consider leaving.

HAINES: I think we'll be OK. We'll be fine. We'll be scared. But...

RONNIE HAINES, GALVESTON RESIDENT: (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HAINES: Yeah.

CALLEBS: Several blocks away, Helena Avery sits, still refusing all pleas to seek shelter.

AVERY: I wouldn't say I'm feisty, but I'm just -- I'm just built in my own mind.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CALLEBS: Well, got news for people like Helena and others who are choosing to ride out the storm on this small barrier island, the teeth of Rita, of course, are going to miss this area. However, the heaviest winds, the strongest rain, and any kind of surge from the ocean, the gulf, expected to come sometime between midnight and 4:00 a.m. Eastern Time. So it is going to be a long anxious night. The mayor tells us there is already some low area flooding on the west and the east end of Galveston and an area not protected by this 17 foot seawall -- Anderson.

COOPER: Sean Callebs, thank you very much. Of course CNN is going to bring this storm to you live. We have reporters and correspondents all across the region from various locations. If one of our locations goes down, we have other ones to pick it up. So stay with CNN throughout this evening.

When we come back, though, on this edition of 360 we'll show you what it is like to stand in 125-mile-per-hour wind. Brian Todd, or correspondent, in a wind tunnel. He will show you the effects of what these winds can do. We'll also the latest on the storm path and a lot more ahead, coming up next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Welcome back, we are live in Beaumont, Texas. The winds here really starting to pick up. It's just a steady breeze though, right now. Nothing compared to what it is going to be. But the rain is starting to come in a little bit more horizontally and it's starting to sting. And it's starting to get much more unpleasant. And as darkness is descending, it is getting -- it's actually getting very dark here, very quickly, which is unusual for this time of the day. Should not be this dark, obviously. So this storm is clearly approaching, but it's about 140 or so miles outside.

Let's take a look at what's happening right now at this moment to get you up to date. The storm is still a Category 3. That means winds about 125-miles-an-hour. As I said, about 140 miles south of Beaumont, right now. But we are tracking this. The storm surge could be in the neighborhood of 20 feet in some locales. We certainly hope that they -- they believe the storm is weakening, though. But there is the risk that it could pick up strength as it -- just before it reaches landfall. So, we're going to watch that very, very closely.

I want to tell you about what happened on the highway. We saw those pictures yesterday of cars, bumper to bumper traffic, for some, for 17 hours, just waiting, going one mile an hour. Well, a bus carrying evacuees, elderly evacuees from a nursing homes exploded. At least 24 people on that bus died. They believe the fire started in the brakes, but made worse by oxygen tanks for some of the elderly residents of that nursing home who were on the bus. They were trying to get to Dallas. They didn't make it.

Also, just wanted to tell you about the latest death toll from New Orleans. The death toll now is 1,075. We do not want to forget in our rush to cover Rita, we do not want to forget the loss of life from Katrina and that, of course is foremost in everyone's minds. And a grim reminder now today with that rise in the death toll to 1,075. Likely those numbers, sadly, will increase.

Let's check in exactly where the storm is now, how strong it is. Chad Myers our severe weather expert at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Chad, how's this thing look?

CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good evening Anderson, I'll tell you what, the winds for you are going to be very schizophrenic. Right now the winds in Beaumont are coming from almost due north. I'll zoom into your area. Beaumont, due north at 26, as the eye of the storm, though, approaches you, those winds are going to turn to the east and then eventually to the south and you are going to be right in the middle of the eye itself.

Now, the eye wall makes landfall about seven hours from now, very close to the Sabine Pass and there's Galveston, off shore winds at 47- miles-per-hour now.

We haven't talked a lot about the storm surge potential for New Orleans because it has been so far away. So far to the east of this storm, but here's going on here. The water is still rising because the winds have been coming from the east all day. Look at Slidell, 30, all the way up to Kenner, 24; Port Sulfur, Empire, about 30 to 35, that water moving through Lake Bourne. Moving through this very porous bayou-like area and pouring into Lake Pontchartrain. Those waters are still going up at Lake Pontchartarain, even at this hour. So we're going to have to get ready for more storm surge flooding even in Louisiana.

Well down to Homa (PH), you may not get anywhere near that amount of storm surge because you don't have that profile. The water just going to kind of slide by you. But New Orleans, you that profile, you are like a little catcher's mitt, right here, and you're catching all of that water and that's why you're in the yellow there, which is four to eight feet. The biggest area, though, of storm surge, Port Arthur, Beaumont, right through Lake Charles. Some of the forgotten towns, we don't want to forget about of these, Bridge City, Orange. Orange, your water, the storm surge for you is going to get all the way to I- 10. Packberry, Cameroon, Holy Beach, Grove, all of those areas from Port Arther to Lake Charles will be inundated, underwater just like places like Bay, St. Louis and Waveland were a couple of weeks ago -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wow. Well, that is terrible to hear, Chad. We're going to be watching very closely. I'll talk to you very shortly, as well. I want to show you what it is like to be in 120-mile-an-hour winds, which is what this storm is packing out there, where it is now. Brian Todd is over at Virginia Tech and went inside a wind tunnel and you're going to see the results firsthand. Take a look.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, hi. I'm here at the wind stability tunnel at Virginia Tech University. This is a place that measures everything having to do with air flow. And including how much wind a human body can withstand. How much tropical storm or hurricane force wind a human body can withstand. Anderson mentioned 125-mile-an-hour winds, The winds in this can get up to 190-miles-an- hour. However the human body cannot withstand more than 111. So that's what we're going to take it tom 111-miles-an-hour is the low end of a Category 3 hurricane. So we're going to fire it up now. At some point, you're not going to be able to hear me speak. I have to hold the microphone this close to my face because you wouldn't hear me if I didn't.

After 75-miles-an-hour, you're just going to have to look and listen to the wind because I'm not going to be able to speak. We're going to fire it up right now. Bill Ojan's (PH) the operator who's going to crank up the wind here starting at 20-miles-an-hour -- intensifying here -- see it get going soon. We're up past 30 -- well past 30- miles-an-hour and I can feel the force on my face right now, 40-miles- an-hour. OK, coming up to 50-miles-an-hour. I can really feel the pressure (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in my face, 60-miles-an-hour, 70-miles-an- hour. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

OK, that got up to 111-miles-an-hour. That's the lowest wind speed of a Category 3 hurricane. And as you could see, I couldn't do much but just stand there and try to weather it. I'm harnessed in here. It gives you an idea of what people who try to venture out in these types of storms are facing -- Anderson.

COOPER: Brian, I've been to some storms where it feels almost hard to breathe. I don't think I've ever been in winds as high as what you were in. I mean, what did it feel like in your body?

TODD: It felt like an incredible amount of pressure. It's like that movie "The Right Stuff" where they're testing out the astronauts for the Mercury Space Program and they're putting them through those G- force machines and you see their faces peeling back and everything. You saw my face. I couldn't talk. I couldn't move. They tell you not to try it walk in here because you'll get blown all over the place. It is an incredible amount of pressure. The people who venture out in these thing, you really -- when you come in here and feel this kind of force, you're never going to go outside in anything resembling a Category 3, two, one, whatever.

ANDERSON: Brian, I appreciate the -- what you did. Thanks very much, Brian.

Earlier I spoke to the mayor of the town of Beaumont, also the chief of police, the mayor, Guy Gibson, and Tom Schofield, who's the chief of police. Here's some of our conversation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: How many people have you -- what percentage of the population is evacuated?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd say well over 90 percent, probably 95 percent.

COOPER: And how were you able to get special needs people, people who didn't have access to vehicles out?

MAYOR GUY GOODSON, BEAUMONT, TEXAS: Well we were lucky. We had a long-term evacuation plan that's been worked on for over a decade. We were able to utilize all of our independent school district buses, and other buses to move special needs people to a location. Then we got some state air assets and were able to move these out of our southeast Texas regional airport to medical centers in Wichita Falls, Amarillo, (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

COOPER: But you don't have shelters here in town.

GOODSON: We never plan on having shelters here. We're too close to the coast. We only wanted essential fire, police, EMS, and city administrators peoples, so that when the storm got through, we could get back on the ground and get the order re-established.

COOPER: And you have all of your officers on duty?

CHIEF TOM SCOFIELD, BEAUMONT POLICE DEPT.: We have 254 officers, all 254, including me, on duty, yes.

COOPER: And will be throughout the storm?

SCOFIELD: We're going to stay right here. When those winds get too high and we have to hunker down, we've got places we're going to go to. Our vehicles will be secure. As soon as we're given the all clear, we'll be right back on the streets again. So, we're going to stay right here.

HANNITY: Mr. Goodson, obvious question. What did you learn from watching what happened during Katrina in New Orleans and other places?

GOODSON: We learned is what we think we knew before that. We've got a great working relationship with our state government, great working relationship with our federal assets here in our community. And we got a great working relationship from Sabine Pass through Jefferson County to Beaumont. We're working together, as we said, every one of our independent school district buses is out of here, full. Every one of our municipal buses is out of here, full. And we've got better than 200 pieces of equipment sitting on a military ship out here in our port that are going to be high, dry and ready to use, full of gas, ready to hit the ground as soon as this storm allows us to drop the back of that ship down and we put them back up there on the deck at the port.

COOPER: And what's your greatest fear? Is there something you're going to be watching the storm coverage for it. What's the worst case you're watching for?

SCOFIELD: Well, we've been prepared for -- we prepared for Category 5. So, anything from there on down, we're ready. All might have people are going to be safe, when it gets to a point we have to hunker down. We have -- our assets are going to be will be safe. We -- the city is secure and we're going to make sure it stays secure. That's our responsibility. Protect the people that are left here, but they're concerned about their property and I can assure you their property will be protected.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And we take that interview an hour ago. I just wanted you to notice the difference in the light. I mean, there was so much lighter there. It is now -- darkness is now getting -- descending very rapidly here. And also as you look out, I mean it's hard -- it's getting harder to even look at the Neches River which is what we're on. There are more and more white caps. The river has not started to overcome the banks here. But we anticipate that really anytime over the next several hours that's one of those things we'll be watching. Our coverage continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And we are live in Beaumont, Texas. My buddy John Zarrella is in Lumberton, Texas. Let's check in with him find out the situation there.

John, how is it?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey Anderson, we're about 15, 20 miles just due north of you inland from you and the wind is picking up, the rain is coming down. The police department is right over in front of me, there. We're going to be spending the evening with them. They say just about all of the 11,000 people in Lumberton have evacuated. Not very many left. The police say probably about 50 people left in Lumberton, Texas.

One of the big issues that we're going to face inland here, we haven't talked about a lot about it, inland flooding. When this storm moves inland, places like this places, places like Lufkin up the road may experience 10, 15, even 20 inches of rain. Potential for serious, serious flooding because of the fact that Rita is likely to just stall out when it moves inland. Again, though, here, OK right now. Wind again starting to howl through the trees. The police actually evacuating all of the people here today, took some of their pets that they can't bring with them and housing their pets in a building adjacent to the police department. But again, everybody's hunkered down here, police, emergency, fire rescue people, just waiting for the worst of the storm -- Anderson.

COOPER: John, we were noticing in just the last couple of minutes sort of wind gusts picking up pretty substantially. You getting gusts or you getting pretty sustained winds there?

ZARRELLA: Yeah, just gusts. We haven't gotten much in the sustained neighborhood yet, Anderson. But the gusts are really picking up and starting to howl through the trees. Nothing sustained. But, as we've been talking, and on the air just now, in the last couple of minutes, you can it's really starting to pick up now.

COOPER:: All right, John, we'll check in with you a little bit later. In a moment, we're going to come back and talk to Congressman Tom Delay who is in Texas, watching over his district. We'll have a conversation with him in a moment. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Already we're getting word of a rescue that has taken place in New Orleans. We have some video of it. A woman eight months pregnant, her 4-year-old son clinging to her, put in a basket by a Coast Guard diver and then brought up into a Coast Guard helicopter. These, of course are scenes we saw over and over again in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Already see one taking place in New Orleans. It's the first time we have someone actually being taken out, someone who got stranded why they hadn't left already, we don't know about this person in particular but we -- let's hope we don't see many more of this and hope there aren't that many people who have decided to try and stick out this storm in New Orleans. But, we anticipate probably seeing a good number of these kind of pictures and images. Again, we'll bring them to you, of course. We're joined by -- in Sugarland, Texas by congressman Tom Delay, it is his home district. He is gone by to monitor the efforts there.

Congressman, how is is Sugarland doing? Are you guys prepared?

TOM DELAY (R), CONGRESSMAN, TEXAS: We're very prepared. We're praying for the best. But everyone is prepared for the worst. We are pretty fortunate that the hurricane moved east. But our prayers go out to those of you that are in Beaumont and western Louisiana.

COOPER: What -- there is a lot of talk in Washington about the cost of all of this, how the U.S. is going to pay for this. You have said -- taxes shouldn't be raised, that there's not a lot of fat to trim in the budget. Some of your critics disagree with that. How do you think -- can we pay for all of this?

DELAY: Well, there is always fat to trim in a budget, and there are some offsets. But this is such a huge disaster starting with Katrina and now we don't know what the cost of Rita is going to be. These kinds of emergencies are something we just have to deal with. It's like no different than fighting a war. And we're fighting a war and we're taking care of disasters. Part of that is borrowed, part of it is paid for. And some of it's found in cutting spending.

COOPER: Are you concerned about the amount of borrowing the U.S. is doing at this point? I mean, the deficit obviously at pretty high levels.

DELAY: Nobody likes the deficit, obviously. And we don't want to increase the deficit any higher than we can handle. But, without getting into economics, the deficit right now is one of the lowest that, as a percent of the gross domestic product, and we can handle it. As long as we have an economy that continues to grow and that's what we need to focus on, a growing economy.

COOPER: Congressman, appreciate you join us tonight. There's a lot we would love to talk to you about. This is probably not the time, though. We'd love to have a conversation with you down the road.

DELAY: I'd love to. And to you -- you just keep safe.

COOPER: OK, take care, thank you very much.

DELAY: And tell everybody to stay in their homes until the storm has passed.

COOPER: Yeah, absolutely. That is the message we heard from you earlier today. And that we are trying to get across. All officials are saying, look, at this point, you're not getting on the highway. I mean, it seems an obvious thing to say, but it is the thing to say now. Do not get on the highway this is the time to stay where you are and just do the best you can and just try to get through this as best you can. We got a lot ahead tonight on 360 more coverage ahead. More -- first, let's check in with what's happening on Paula Zahn at the top of the hour -- Paula.

COOPER: Anderson, I have a question for you. How long do you plan to be outside tonight?

COOPER: As long as I can.

ZAHN: Well, be careful. You heard all the warnings. And we, of course, are going to tell our audience more about some of the efforts already underway with people having problems. Coast Guard helicopters already started rescuing people who've had some second thoughts about staying in place. And before our correspondents hunker down keep safe, we're going to go all along the Texas-Louisiana coast for last minute updates on all of the places that are likely to get the hardest.

And, Anderson, I think one of the statistics I've heard that you're experiencing already is the fact that this storm is going to be so strong that people 100 miles inland, are going to feel 74-mile-per- hour winds. That's a powerful storm.

COOPER: Yeah, you can already feel the strength of this storm. I mean, it feels different than any that I felt so far. There is an intensity in this wind. There is a -- you just feel this presence coming this way and, again, we're going to just bring it to you as much as we can before we have to move indoors. A lot a head, Sanjay Gupta is in a hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana where some patients were too sick to move. We'll get an update from him in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And we are back live in Beaumont, Texas. You can see the water here on the Neches River definitely coming up, starting to get some swells here. This area very wet. The rain only increasing. Sanjay Gupta is over in Lake Charles, Louisiana, just east of here. He is in a hospital.

Sanjay, what are the preparations that they have made. Do they still have patients there?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do still have patients here, Anderson. Lots of preparation, lots of lessons learned already from Katrina. The goal was to get as many patients out as possible. They did that. It wasn't easy. I'll tell you that as well. They had ambulances coming, literally 20 ambulances from different states parked here last night and then helicopters actually landing, Anderson, in a graveyard right next to the hospital.

They landed there. Army helicopter basically moved the patients out of the hospital and on to those helicopters. The frightening thing, the difficult thing, though Anderson is there is some patients who are just too sick to move out. And it becomes a balance. Like so many of the things, it's too risky to actually move them, so they're going to hunker down and stay here. They're worried about losing power. They're worried about losing their water as well. Hospitals can be dangerous places because of the oxygen, because of diesel fuel, things like that. So right now they're pretty confident -- Anderson.

COOPER: What is the confidence based? Just where they think the storm is headed or just the amount of supplies they have, the preparations they have?

GUPTA: I think they've just been going over this over and over again in their minds. They learned a lot of lessons from Katrina, specifically regarding the flooding. They're betting that they're not going to get as much flooding into the hospital here because of the precautions they've taken. Also simple things like the generators are actually above sea level so they don't expect those generators to short out. So even if the main power goes out, they're expecting that they're going to have those generators running to keep those patients in the ICU on those breasting machines -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right Sanjay...

WHITFIELD: All right, sorry about that, we're losing our signal there with Anderson Cooper also joined by Sanjay Gupta. I'm Fredricka Whitfield here in Atlanta. We want to take you to Paula Zahn in New York for more of our prime time coverage.

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